Quick pick – Patio veg planters for little ones

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Think ahead to those warm, balmy days of summer when salad will seem like the most desirable dish going. And what can be better than just popping outside and getting a few very, very fresh leaves?

 

Funky patio veg containers

And is there a better crop to get kids involved with than growing salad? It’s quick, and fairly foolproof, and they’ll love these funky containers to get their crops going in. Just make sure they are well into the concept of sharing!

I found these at Garden Boutique, currently priced at £15.95.

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You’re going to uni. Now what? A foodie perspective

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A’level results are out and so a whole new batch of students will be heading off into the world, ready to fend for themselves and cook their own dinners. So, what kind of foodie student are you dispatching to uni and what do they need to see them on their way? Depends on where they already are on their food journey. Here’s a few suggestions:

The non cooking student

Oh dear, they’ve got through at least 18 years with no cooking skill at all. Maybe best put them into halls of residence that provide everything. Otherwise suggest either you need to give them a very rapid crash course in basic cooking at home, or a copy of Delia’s How to Cook. And get down to IKEA and buy them one of those kitchen starter sets.

The novice student

So, they’ve done a bit of cooking and know how to turn the cooker on. They may have cooked you dinner. They may know one type of pasta from another. They at least know what pasta is. They could be very popular though, as being able to cook could make them a lot of friends on their floor! Here’s a few thoughts for them:

* Provide them with their favourite recipes from home. You could cook them with them a few times, write them out, put them in a Word document on their laptop, make videos and post on YouTube…any way you can think of to give them a taste of home.

* If you’ve got recipes that need specific mixes of herbs or spices then you could package them up for them, as herbs and spices might not be top of their spending list. Craving for mum’s cooking is what set the idea for Spicentice in motion. Or add a few of the Spicentice packs into their packing.

* They’ll need some kitchen stuff. I would suggest they will need a large saucepan (one that you could get a steamer in as well) for doing pasta, which they may do a lot of, and you could give them a non-stick frying pan for fry ups, omelettes, even stir frys. A small non stick pan for scrambled eggs or beans. And then I would add a decent casserole dish in. I’ve had a Le Creuset one for over 20 years, and it’s truly the best for one pot cooking. Throw in a chopping board, a few decent knives and something like the Joseph Joseph stacking set, and they can cook up a huge variety of dishes.

* Give them a great store cupboard to start off with. Let’s face it, with this lot, there are a great combo of meals that they could produce. I would pack them off with: several kinds of pasta, including fettucine or pappardelle and fusilli or penne; two olive oils, one extra virgin, one ordinary and a more bland oil like groundnut; pesto, tomato puree, olive paste, anything to add extra flavour to just about anything else, likewise soy sauce and a reasonable balsamic; tinned standbys like chickpeas, tuna, salmon, tomatoes; rice for risotto and biryanas, bulgar wheat for pilaf  and cous cous. That should keep them going until their first trip home!

* Freezer bags or boxes, so that nothing goes to waste.

The Gourmand Student

Oh, this one you’re going to have to frisk before they leave!

* Check out what bits of your kit they’ve been using regularly in your kitchen, and buy them their own. Face into it, if you’ve got decent knives, good pans or exciting kit, then they’ll be off before you can wave them goodbye.

* Stock them with the goodies they might have got used to like Frescobaldi Laudemio Extra Virgin Olive Oil or a chunk of black truffle. You could also just give them the same products I listed for the Novice Student but at the best available level.

* They’ll be the king or queen of seasonal cooking, so perhaps sign them up for an allotment. That way they can have fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, and grow varieties that even Waitrose don’t stock. Try Landshare to see what’s available near the uni, or register for a plot. Sign them up to the Heritage Seed Library or check out Sarah Raven and pack them off with a year’s worth of unusual seeds.

* Give them a list of all the local food markets and farmer’s markets, as they’ll be their natural food hunting ground. Get them a trolley to lug home their precious food treasures in.

My favourite tip is to pack them off with a large cake, or a whole lot of cupcakes. Things perfect for sharing with your new neighbours. Tea and cake, perfect for every kind of student. Unless the novice can’t boil water!

Tomorrow, going to cover alternatives to the student cookbooks that would still set them up to have a great repertoire without going into debt.

Leaving home shot by Leafar on Flickr

 

Off to university

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The Friday Five – Bring on the Veggies

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Vegetable sunset

Next week is National Vegetarian Week, so I thought it would be good to look at interesting cookbooks that are not about the meat. Even if you’re not a full time veggie, there is a school of thought that says it’s a good thing to have less meat, and therefore you might want some inspiration around some new dishes. Here’s a few to wet your appetite.

1. Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian– this is a classic, and has just been fully updated, and will give you lots to go at, whether you have been a veggie for years, or it’s just a passing fancy for a Thursday night. Rose Elliot really is seen as the queen of vegetarian cooking, so this really should make it onto your cookbook shelves.

2. Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon– in my veggie phase, this was my bible. A prolific writer, and I think this caught my tastebuds as it seemed to be slightly lighter approach than many European writers. Charmaine has gone on to write many books on Asian cuisines, and I’ve gone on to revert back to bacon sandwiches. But I did love the cheese souffle stuffed red peppers.

3. Tender: Volume I, A cook and his vegetable patch by Nigel Slater – I love Nigel Slater, Real Fast Food is the first cookbook I bought myself. And if this had been around when I was doing veggie, maybe I’d still be veggie, as the recipes are delicious. I may still have been tempted by a bacon sandwich. This is not a vegetarian cookbook, but vegetables are the dominant ingredient, so perhaps a good one for households of mixed eating habits.

4. Mediterranean Harvest: Delicious Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine by Martha Rose Shulman – this is probably my favourite kind of veggie food, and a Greek vegetarian meze is my idea of heaven. This book covers great recipes from Spain, France, Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, so giving you a huge variety of recipes and flavours to work from. It makes me think of sunny afternoons, even if it’s going to be grey outside.

5. The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson – another of my favourite food writers, this is as good as Simon’s other books in my view. I’ve only browsed through this in the bookshop, so not yet made it onto the shelf here (I’m supposed to be economising) but it’s on my wishlist. Perfect for veggies, or just foodies, or veggie foodies.

So these are great books to show how fantastically tasty vegetables can be. And this beautiful shot shows how stunning they can look as well, taken by Thomas Euler over on Flickr.

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So, now people might get why seasonal and local is important!

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Empty sky

Who would have thought this time last week that we would be thinking about the Royal Navy being dispatched to rescue stranded Brits, and shops warning of shortages on imported goods.

Apparently we are likely to run into imminent shortages of exotic fruit, like figs, papaya and coconut. What’s a bit sad is that there aren’t more things on the list, given how much of our fruit and veg comes from overseas. It just goes to show how much comes by sea and how long it’s been out of the ground or off the tree by the time it hits your shopping basket.

And right now we are on the brink of some additional fabulous British seasonal produce, as the asparagus season is nearly upon us. Of course you can buy it all year round, but why would you? This really should be about enjoying what is ready and beautifully ripe today, not what can be ferried in. I really like Eat the Seasons as an online guide to what’s good right now, particularly as it’s updated on a weekly basis.

There has been a huge surge in interest in seasonal food, as a search on Amazon will reveal. There are currently 3528 books that come up when you search on seasonal food, with titles from everyone from Mark Hix to Paul Waddington and Ross Dobson. The whole issue over the past week has also highlighted concerns around our self sufficiency as a nation to be able to supply our own food. There are some interesting books around on the subject, like Eat Your Heart Out: Why the Food Business is Bad for the Planet and Your Health.

Perhaps it’s another part of the reason why we’ve seen the massive surge in interest in growing our own fruit and vegetables. That said, cooking would be considerably duller without things like lemon and lime, which is possibly why they have been so prized for so long.

Here’s hoping that things revert to normal soon, that everyone gets to where they need to be. And everyone gets hold of some fabulous British asparagus!

Fantastic shot of empty skies by matze_ott over on Flickr.


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The Friday Five – Working towards the good life

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The Complete Book of Self-sufficiency

I wrote at the weekend about getting ready to plant your veg, or plug plants, ready for having crops of your own later in the year. It’s amazing what a little bit of sunshine can inspire you to do! So for this week’s Friday Five, here are 5 books to help you towards self sufficiency, from all out to just a little bit at the weekend! Happy digging!

1. The Self-Sufficiency Manual – may as well start with a classic text! This is an updated version of John Seymour’s classic text which is, as it says, for dreamers and realists. Need to know how to milk a cow or plough a field? It’s in here. Not just for those of you with a spare 100 acres of land, John Seymour believed you should aim to cultivate whatever you had, even a windowbox. You can always dream!

2. The Self Sufficient-sih Bible – if you’re not going to go all the way, then this might be better reading, particularly for those living an urban life, but that just want it to be bit more green. It’s probably a bit more realistic for most of us, as true self sufficiency takes not only lots of land, but a big time commitment too. But just doing a bit will be rewarding, and give you some tasty stuff to take back to the kitchen!

3. How to Store Your Garden Produce: The Key to Self Sufficiency – there’s no point growing lots of great stuff only to watch it turn green and mouldy in the corner and end up straight back in your compost bin! This little gem of a book will help you maximise the life of your fresh produce by ensuring you know how to preserve it for added longevity. From canning to bottling, stringing onions and even finding something interesting to do with marrow (I fail to be convinced however) then this book covers it all.

4. Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes – not so much how to grow them, but what to cook with them when you have them. Once you start down this road, you will find dealing with gluts becomes an annual event, and this is a good standby to inspire you when you’re faced with more tomatoes than you know what to do with! Once you’ve given away as many as you can, then try turning to this before you resort to doorstep courgettes. Trust me, if you don’t know what it is now, you will!

5. Self-sufficiency Hen Keeping – keeping hens has to be next on the list for foodies who want to be a bit self sufficient. Even if you can’t bring yourself to dispatch them to the oven or pot, then they can at least keep you eggs on a daily basis. This is a great straight-forward guide, telling you everything you need to consider before you turn some of your garden over to chickens. And maybe even move on from there to bees.

If you want to work out if it’s for you or not, maybe an afternoon catching up on The Good Life will let you know if a life of nettle wine is for you!

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Sunshine and chitting

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Green shoots are coming!

 

Finally, it feels like the longest winter in history may be over, and the big yellow thing has returned to the sky. I misheard Best Foodie Friend last week when she said she had started chitting potatoes. Thought it sounded unusual.

Which means it’s time to start looking at the raised beds again, plotting to grow so many things, and then at least ending up with a glut of parsley and mint. Plus the glut from BFF’s allotment and new garden. But if you’re worried about food miles and provenance, not to mention taste, then no matter how amateur you are, you can always grow a few things yourself, and they’ll taste so much better. In fact, smug virtuousness ought to named taste number 6!

Need some inspiration? Here’s some of my favourites:

* I think this is probably the laziest way I know to get a veg garden going. A Rocket Garden voucher makes a great gift, for someone else, or even for yourself if you’re either a new gardener or a very lazy one. I have very little success with seeds, so someone delivering little plants already underway would be a huge bonus.

* If you’re going down the organic route, then check out The Organic Gardening Catalogue. If you’re good, you can choose from all kinds of seeds, or there are plenty of choices in plug plants too. Also try more unusual things, like growing your own horseradish, ready to accompany a great rib of beef later in the year.

* Want bragging rights and something unusual to show at the local horticultural show? Then try growing heritage varieties, things that haven’t been seen down the garden centre in a long time. The Heritage Seed Library is preserving species at risk, and if you become a member you get to grow up to 6 varieties a year. This would be a great gift for a foodie with serious green fingers, as they get to delve into the delights of Glory of Devon peas, Rent Payer broad beans and Bunyard’s Matchless Lettuce. If you just want unusual potatoes, then try Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes, dispatching now but act quickly, stocks are limited.

* Sarah Raven feels like the Daylesford Farm Shop of seed and plant catalogues, in that it almost suggests to me no mucky hands are involved, and she clearly understands her target market. Conforming to type, I will therefore be ordering the Foodies Tomato Collection, seedlings of 3 tasty species along with some basil. It’s like a tomato and basil salad waiting to happen. In a similar vein, just not quite so pretty, try Crocus and their plug plant collections, like Luscious Legumes and Credit Crunchy Veg.

So go pull on your wellies, get your trug out and at least have a look at where you might plant stuff. It could be on small step on the road to self-sufficiency. Or at least a tasty tomato crop.

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What do you get a foodie mum?

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I love being a mum, and I love my food. Which probably makes me easy to buy for on Mother’s Day. And it would mean it was easy with me to never fall into the trap of Olay and L’Oreal Mother’s Day advertising (trust me, she’s worth so much more, and no mum wants anti-wrinkle cream. Ever).

Here’s some ideas for gifts for the food and drink loving mum, to show her just how worth it she is!

* There’s got to be fizz, and make it interesting. TheDrinkShop has a great selection, in every shade and to suit every budget, and if you’re going to be super generous then check out Wine Hound. You have to buy a whole case, but could mix wine and champagne, and they have some from more unusual houses in Champagne. And even if mum doesn’t do alcohol, The Alcohol Free Shop offers some very good alternatives.

 

Fabulous chocolates from Rococo

 

* Of course chocolates are traditional, but they don’t have to be old-fashioned. I love the packaging and unusual flavour combinations from Rococo, like the dark chocolate and violet. I adore the fabulously vibrant packaging from Prestat, a long established house with anything but an old fashioned look and feel to it. Have a look at the Marc de Champagne Truffle Collection. Want to go swanky? Check out Melt, which I would say was perfect true foodie territory. How about salted feuillantines or olive caramel bon bons?

* Mum got a savoury tooth, not sweet? How about a cheese gift from Pong? There is a luxury gift box for her, which is the sort of thing I normally avoid, but this is a great collection. Mum can feast on St Eadburgha, Reblochon, organic Cotswold Blue Brie from Simon Weaver and Golden Cross. Add in some fabulous crackers and maybe even some good chutney, and that’s supper sorted out on Mother’s Day!

* For green fingered, grow your own mums, how about a fruit tree? Tree 2 My Door offer some great self-pollinating ones, from apples, to something more unusual like mulberry. Or maybe treat her to something to inspire her growing, like tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show.

So, break out a bit from the norm and make mum’s day!

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What do foodies do in Spring?

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There are very vague signs of Spring: mornings are lighter, if I slink off sharpish it’s still light when I leave work, and there are some small green shoots in the garden.

 

Green shoots are coming!

 

And in the kitchen all sorts of things change for me. I know that it’s Spring when I start reaching for Bill Granger cookbooks and put away Delia’s Winter Collection. I start craving different things to eat, lots of South East Asian, lots of lighter stuff. What else might be going on?

1. The casserole might be heading back into the cupboard, and the wok might be heading out more permanently. Quick, easy and full of fresh flavours!

2. The grow your own foodies will be busy prepping their fruit and veg plots, as well as working out what seeds to order in. I am really keen on Seeds of Italy, and there are some really unusual varieties of tomatoes and basil, as well as things like spelt and garlic chives. I am told I should be chitting potatoes, but misheard that the first time. If you’re not great with seeds, then order in seedlings ready to go in the ground. I like Sarah Raven and Thompson and Morgan, and I won’t tell your more green fingered friends if you don’t!

3. The pancake loving foodie will be dusting off their crepe pan ready for Shrove Tuesday. The less well co-ordinated will be looking at their ceiling and worrying. The really inept amongst us might choose an electric crepe maker!

4. The globe trotting foodie will be lured around the world to track down a huge variety of flavours. They were probably in San Francisco yesterday at the Crab Festival, and next weekend they could be at Menton in the South of France for the Lemon Festival. And you could head anywhere with a Chinatown next weekend ready for Chinese New Year.

5. Those of us with just Oyster cards will be enjoying a Parisian experience in W1, by heading to Pierre Herme’s instore patisserie at Selfridges for some truly magnificent macaroons. These are exquisite looking, and taste as good as they look. If you want to try recreating them, his book is only avaiable in French through Amazon France, although I can recommend a read of the experiences over on the He Eats blog. I particularly want to give the Salted Caramel and Apple ones a go.

So, even if more snow comes, just hang on in there, the Spring is on it’s way along with all the bounty that will bring.

Interesting shot of shoots by sciondriver over on Flickr.

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Snowed in? Plan your veg garden!

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Getting planning your home grown goodies!

 

 

Lets face it, it appears we are in the worse winter since God was a boy and sent us the last Ice Age. Which means we don’t have to feel remotely guilty about not setting foot out of doors. Personally, this is the time of year I like to spend curled up with the seed and plant catalogues, full of good intentions of all the things I am going to grow.

Regardless of how much space you have, you can grow something, and it will taste better than lots of stuff you can buy. There’s nothing like leaning out the conservatory window to pick some rosemary that goes straight into the kitchen. I can think of no shorter supply chain!

You can either buy seeds, plants and kits for the foodie in your life, or just order in the catalogues and let them make some choices. Here’s where I’m looking for some inspiration this season:

1. Seeds of Italy is new to me, and I want to grow loads of stuff from here. Given that we have 3 raised beds and a patio, I shall have to be strict! There is an amazing choice of varieties of tomato though, and I really do like the look of the Costoluto Fiorentino and the Yellow Pear Shaped. Something to keep even the most experience vegetable grower interested and trying something new!

2. Sarah Raven has lovely things, although not necessarily the cheapest. If your foodie is new to growing their own, then the Beginner’s Garden Veg Collectionis a great gift for a beginner, as it says on the tin. Looks very pretty, and useful seeds like french beans, lettuce and parsley. For the more advance, there are things like Beetroot “Burpees Golden” and Courgette Trombomcino (yes, it does look like a trombone, kind of) not to mention edible flowers. If you’ve got mini gourmets to buy for, then also worth taking a look at the Easy Veg for Children kit.

3. If you want to grow unusual, heritage varieties, then the Heritage Seed Library is a perfect choice. You have to become a member, and you get to grow up to 6 varieties a year. It’ll certainly give you something different to show at the horticultural show, not to mention benefit from tastes that have all but disappeared. Membership is just £20 for the year, definitely an unusual but useful foodie present.

4. Lets not dismiss Thompson & Morgan just because you can get them in every garden centre. They are big on research, and are big on seeds and plants for small spaces. Check out the vegetable pouch collection, which allows you to grow things like salad leaves and runner beans in a pouch hanging on a wall. Only got patio space? They have varieties for you to be able to grow everything from blueberries to cucumber, not to mention some patio veg planters.

5. I’m not brilliant with growing from seed, with last summer being my most successful. If you really want the lazy route, or a brilliant gift, then check out Rocket Gardens, who will send you little plants all ready to go in the ground. They offer everything from patio container and window box versions, through to a full Mediterranean vegetable garden. You can order and give the vouchers any time of the year, and the plants will be sent when the time is right for planting. You do have to plant them yourself and tend for them, but this is lazy gardening that should lead to great and tasty results!

So, get snuggled up in front of the fire, get your graph paper and coloured pens out and all the seed catalogues, virtual or otherwise, and put these cold nights to good foodie use!

Shot of great looking raised beds by greengardenvienna on Flickr.

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What will 2010 bring for food & food lovers?

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What trends does your crystal ball show?

 

It’s coming round to that time of year when everyone and his dog has the crystal ball out to look at the year ahead and tries to work out what will be up, down, in or out in the year ahead. I did this last year for food, and can’t believe it’s that time again.

This year though it feels much harder to read the year ahead. Last year the only thing that seemed certain was that it was going to be tough, which would probably drive hunkering down kind of behaviour: making do and mend, doing it ourselves, food for free. And 2010? Less certain, but here goes with my thoughts:

1. More of the same. Not an economist, but it feels like, from an average person’s point of view, that it could continue to get tougher this year. We’ve saved the bankers, but the rest of us might continue to pay and feel the fall out. So I think we’ll continue to rediscover homemade skills, or refined the ones we picked up last year. Homemade jam and chutney will continue to grow, the joy of homemade bread to go along with it could grow. The dream of self sufficiency may be pursued, but many may find how unsustainable that is without a lot of work, and quite a lot of land. But doing a bit is better than doing nothing at all.

2. No economist, and certainly no political commentator, but it feels like a change is likely to come with the election we will have before the end of May. And if we have a shift to the right, maybe there will be a slightly more nationalistic approach to cooking. I think there has already been a resurgence in interest in traditional British cooking across all regions, but perhaps 2010 will see us exploring even more. It may also be a slight nostalgia, and a slight fear, of time passing by ever more quickly, and of things being lost. I loved the Quaking Pudding at the Hinds Head in Bray, and that Sussex Pond Pudding was on the menu too. More of this I think.

3. With Istanbul being European Capital of Culture for 2010, I would expect to see a surge of interest in Turkish food. Really interesting though looking at the official site that food is not immediately obvious as part of the events. How can food not be involved in culture? Some of us would argue that food and eating are at the very heart of culture. Responsible Travel have a great cooking tour of Istanbul, that has you cooking lunch and dinner along with other culinary visits. Sounds like a good starting place, as it’s just 4 days. Want to try it at home first? I could be tempted by The Sultan’s Kitchen as a starting point, but maybe the year will see a plethora of new launches around the subject.

4. In the usual cycle of trends, it’s normally around 20 years till something is trendy again. Which would give us the Nineties. Annoying Budweiser adverts, the advent of the Diet Coke break. Although it did bring the genius of the John West salmon ad. It was the start of the next phase of supermarket domination with the first Tesco Metro opening in Covent Garden in 1992, but also the arrival of Lidl and Aldi. And the rapid rise of pre-packed salads. Not much good. Throw out the trend cycle I say and get sowing your own salad. Kids love this, most of us have room for something, and nothing tastes better than freshly picked leaves. I’ll be working my way through Seeds of Italy’s finest, or go the lazy but effective route and choose the Salad Garden from Rocket Gardens and they’ll deliver little plants already to go.

So four possibilities from my Mystic Meg crystal ball. I am sure other than that that those of us who love food will continue to do so, and continue to explore the best, tastiest, most sustainable, local ways to getting great dishes to the table.

Here’s to the year ahead! Happy eating!

Fabulous photograph by Richard Lamb Photography

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